SLOW DOWN [Shaintar Legends Unleashed] Classic Illusionism advice

edited February 2014 in Play Advice
From Shaintar: Legends Unleashed, page 79:

Rule Number One – Cheat

This is hardly a new concept in the annals of
gaming, but it absolutely bears emphasis as the first
rule of running the campaigns being discussed here.
Feel free to make sure your players know that you
will sometimes “cheat”; honestly, they should expect
it, and they should appreciate that it’s really the only
way you have a chance of giving them any kind of
challenge.

That word – challenge – comes up a lot in this
context. It is not the place of the GM to win out
against the players; even in “Empire Strikes Back”
and “The Two Towers,” the Heroes were far from
utterly defeated, lest the stories just be over with a
lousy ending. Yet the Game Master is very much
expected to challenge the Heroes, or else the game
becomes little more than an exercise in flexing might
and cleverness for a few rounds, wondering what the
next campaign might be like.

Realize that from the very beginning, you’re being
ganged up on. Your players are each maximizing the
abilities of their Novice Rank Heroes against whatever
you throw at them, and doing so in conjunction
with their fellows. By the time they reach Heroic
and Legendary Rank, they know their characters
like snipers know their favorite rifles, and those
characters are pointed directly at everything you do
and are used with precision to devastating results.

However, you have the right and, frankly, the
responsibility to at least occasionally grab the
strands of Fate and twist reality to make things more
interesting and entertaining. In order to enjoy and
savor their victories, battles need to be hard won and
successes need to come at great effort and, sometimes,
cost.

Blatant, naked cheating, however, is going to
be held with a dim view. Your players are going to
expect you to go through at least some kind of ritual
or process to pull any stunts against them. At the very
least, you need to carefully conceal your cheats so that
everything happens behind-the-scenes, while out in
front of the camera, all seems to be going as it was.
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Comments

  • This is what I call "classic Illusionism advice," and I thought I'd share it here. This is a book released very recently (2014, actually). The hallmarks:

    * The GM must cheat or the game will suffer.
    * The GM has an adversarial role with the player (the GM is "ganged up on"), but also a responsibility to entertain the player.
    * The GM should carefully conceal the cheating.

    Please don't get me wrong. I think the Shaintar setting is fantastic, creative, and fun. I backed the Kickstarter at a high level. I am a fan.

    I am not a fan of this GM advice, however.
  • Oh, I missed the caveat at the beginning:

    Feel free to make sure your players know that you
    will sometimes “cheat”; honestly, they should expect
    it . . .
    That helps. If you "feel free" to inform your players that you are cheating, that makes it Participationism, and that's cool. I'm not sure how that connects with the last paragraph warning the gamemaster of the "dim view" of "blatant, naked cheating."
  • "By the time they reach Heroic
    and Legendary Rank, they know their characters
    like snipers know their favorite rifles, and those
    characters are pointed directly at everything you do
    and are used with precision to devastating results."

    Sounds an awful lot like telling me to look at my things through crosshairs. XD

    In seriousness, I don't see it, but does it ever say what it considers "cheating"?
    From the word, I usually assume dice fudging or otherwise screwing with the math (based on, oh, previous experience).

    But reading that section, it sounds like it's much more of a fictional-thing like, I don't know, "the enemy forces had actually been much closer than anyone knew", or "the dark lord survived the battle but no one realized it" or something.
    In which case, the last bit is essentially saying "make sure it's plausible if non-obvious", so, you're not just saying "the dark lord stands back up" and they ask "how?" and you're like "he just does".
    Which is actually pretty reasonable and it's just some decent advice written and explained in a bad manner.

    But, if they actually do mean cheating as in breaking some rules because you feel like it...
    Well, that's a sign that maybe said rules have some issues, I think.

    - Alex
  • It's clear what it considers cheating, on the next page:

    Here are some of the best kinds of cheats to employ,
    in no particular order:

    More GM Bennies

    Your players can clearly see your basic stack, and
    they count on being able to watch that stack dwindle
    as they force you to spend them. So you cannot just
    dump more on there. You can, however, subtly add
    more bennies to individual Wild Cards. Though the
    standard enemy Wild Card has two personal bennies,
    I will often have more important ones carry three,
    four, or even five of their own if they have a key role
    to fulfill. Players do not necessarily need to know
    how many personal bennies such a character has; this
    can be an excellent way to give one or two more Soak
    rolls, re-rolls, or whatever when you need to juice the
    opposition. Save those core bennies for the final run
    down to the end of the conflict.

    Surprise Abilities

    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve realized
    “Dang it, I should have given him Improved Frenzy!”
    Well, guess what? Do it. Right there, on the spot.
    From a narrative perspective, the villain can reveal
    her talents unexpectedly; she didn’t open up the
    fight showing off a given skill level, Edge, ability, or
    Power, but that could just mean she was waiting for
    the perfect time to catch her opponent by surprise.
    Not only is this a perfectly acceptable cheat, but your
    players will get a kick out of the cinematic conceit.
    Although they might also get a stabbing, burning, or
    chomping out of it, too.

    Unlisted Bonuses

    In other words, “fudging.” When a Bad Guy misses
    a roll by one or two, you really should feel free to
    at least once in a while kick the number up. Maybe
    the sword has an extra enchantment to hit, or the
    assassin got a Boost Trait for his Stealth skill that only
    just kicked in. You don’t even really have to justify
    these number-nudges, unless you’re the kind of GM
    who rolls everything out in the open. If that’s the case
    be ready to simply say there are bonuses at work and
    leave it at that.

    Healing Items

    Magic items do not flow from factories in Shaintar,
    but if anyone should have a potion of Healing or a
    ring with Fast Regeneration on it, a main villain for
    a Legendary campaign should. These are not meant
    to be found and stuffed into the Heroes’ trove of
    goodies; they should be used, and used up before a
    battle is over.

    Surprise Allies and Reinforcements

    Are the Heroes cleaning up the board before the
    first round of combat is even over? Fine, that was the
    warm-up; now comes the force of warriors, monsters,
    or even a handful of bad-to-the-bone Wild Cards
    that are the “real threat.” It pays to have such entities
    written up and on hand for use as needed.

    Bad Guys Pray, Too

    Remember it’s not only the Heroes who have allies
    among the divine; Demon Lords, Necrolords, and
    their more powerful agents often take a liking to a
    particular servant or chosen warrior. Sometimes,
    when all seems lost for that person, his patron may
    well decide to not leave him hanging in the wind,
    instead providing some kind of assistance. Or,
    perhaps, an escape.
  • For context, this is a book for running epic adventures in the Shaintar setting. The characters are the high muckity-mucks of the world and have incredible powers. This is for the Savage Worlds RPG, but in D&D terms, think very-high-level (Epic-tier in 4E).
  • edited February 2014
    I think this touches on another issue.
    SPF wrote this setting for Savage Worlds, an existing game that people know.
    Writing this setting, and then having to "cheat" at the rules to support the type of game the setting calls for... is like, meta-illusionism.

    "Your players will expect Savage Worlds, because you told them you were going to play Savage Worlds and they already like and know the rules for Savage Worlds. But that's just the conceit to get them to the table. Now you need them to believe they're playing Savage Worlds, but instead, they're playing this other game where you make up the rules and break ones you don't like."

    It's seem a more mature approach would have been to create powers or rules to support that type of play.

    I liked the setting when I played in it 5 years ago, but I find this kind of advice... unsettling.
  • This is, uh, "excellent." Well, at least it's useful as an example for an essay I'm working on about Rule Zero!
  • I think "why" is far more telling than "how".

    If it's a tactical game (and it sounds like it is) than wanting to keep the game challenging and interesting is not a bad motivation. Personally I would focus more on prepping a game that was actually challenging, not coming up with ways to cheat after the fact.

    On the other hand, if it said "cheat to keep the players from derailing your story" I would look for the nearest bonfire.
  • It is genuinely difficult to create a challenging game, though. In boardgame and video game design you basically either create symmetrical scenarios, or you playtest your brains out to ensure that there are interesting, fair challenges in your setup. For a roleplaying game the latter is very, very difficult, as the scenarios are usually not played thousands or even millions of times, which those other types of games are, thus justifying the amount of work it takes to craft balanced challenges manually.

    As everybody here probably already knows, D&D went the way of systemic encounter balancing with the 3rd edition in an attempt to solve the problem and get out of the illusionistic solution that Shaintar seems to use. I personally find both of these solutions severely deficient in comparison with the classical negotiated challenges used in wargaming and old school rpgs.

    Shaintar's solution is the traditional one, though: pre-make something that seems roughly right, and ensure a flexible approximation of balance by fine-tuning on the go. It works in the sense of not requiring playtesting before using it in play, which is sort of a minimal requirement for make-it-yourself rpg scenarios. I myself lose all interest in the supposed "challenge" when a game is played in this way, but if you're into it for the theatrics (as opposed to genuine player-level challenge), then it doesn't make much of a difference, which explains a lot about its popularity. And it's not like there are too many alternatives: I identify three solutions above (negotiate challenges, cheat, or use some sort of point-buy system), and can't off-hand name any more.
  • Since this is printed in the main book it seems insane to say that players of the game don't know it's happening even if you do forget to mention it.
  • Point-buy systems are notoriously difficult to build as well. Even in environments as constrained in action as a traditional wargame the points value of units is often contentious or conditional. Go to any wargame websight and one of the first thing you'll see is a discussion of which units are over or under pointed. And that's in an environment where the rules strictly limit what can and can't be done.
  • Since this is printed in the main book it seems insane to say that players of the game don't know it's happening even if you do forget to mention it.
    Character players read rulebooks where you're from? I mean, beyond the section where they get to drool over their character's cool background and awesome powers, assuming they're especially driven players in the first place?

  • Jason, you might be right, but note there's a Player's Guide product meant to give the players something useful that is not this specific rulebook.

    Also, nothing forces the GM to follow this advice, right? The GM can happily refuse to "cheat" if she wants. No big deal.


    I think a lot of the design philosophy comes down to "perfect game design is hard or impossible; fudge to make up for the design's shortcomings." And that isn't me taking a dig at designers. Perfect design IS hard, and maybe impossible, for certain play styles. The only fix for that is action by the GM and players, and a designer would be remiss not to address it somehow, at least as play advice. Play advice IS design.
  • edited February 2014
    I'd say that typically being familiar with the rule book (at least the broad strokes) is a fairly common expectation of trad games.

    Personally I'm more likely to just take a use an encounter I bungled the balance on as an opportunity to let the players feel awesome about themselves and their characters than do any of this (assuming I bungled in their favor. If I bungled in the other direction I'm a fan of using the defeat to drive story) (and 5 would be the only one I'd consider), but yeah I would expect a player to be basically familiar with the game before play.

    If I know that I'm playing with a group that DOESN'T have that familiarity then I'll go out of my way to make sure that the players understand what techniques are being used. But ANY GAME is going to have problems if the players don't have a solid expectation. Go look at any thread here about problems running Fate or Apocalypse World and you'll see that letting players know what is expected of them is one of the first troubleshooting tips.

    Player ignorance of the system is not an problem unique to "illusionism" (whatever definition we're using this week), but just a general bad practice. Sitting down at an OSR game and expecting a satisfying narrative experience would be just as jarring .
  • For this thread:

    Illusionism: GM invalidating player choices without them knowing that she's doing it.
    Participationism: GM invalidating player choices with their consent, whether or not they are aware of any instance of it.


    Re: ignorance of system

    I don't think it's relevant here. Shaintar is a Savage Worlds setting. Players are expected to know the Savage Worlds rules and a handful of setting-specific things for their character plus some basic setting knowledge, all of which are available in the Player's Guide. The Legends Unleashed book--especially the GM section containing the text I quoted--is really aimed at the GM only. It's full of setting secrets and other spoilers. Doesn't mean a player might not read it, but I don't think there's an expectation that the player will read this.


  • edited February 2014
    Well, if a player doesn't care to know what principles a GM is applying, and so passes on reading the book (as I agree many do!), how does that pass responsibility to the GM, or worse, to the designer, who are not involved in that decision?

    No, it's all participationism - the only ones that don't know are those that don't care. Neither are deceived.
  • Ah, I almost got into it with Jason again. Not today, my little one! Believe as you would.
  • edited February 2014
    Hey Adam,

    The product has enough cool stuff that you bought it and remain a fan despite its omissions.

    What it doesn't have (apparently) is a way to provide challenge without cheating.

    The authors believe that players won't want to witness game-hacking during play. That may be untrue for some, but it wouldn't surprise me if they know their audience and it is in fact correct for the vast majority.

    Given those constraints, what do you wish Shaintar had done?
  • I found this to be something of a problem with Savage Worlds generally, although I'm willing to believe I was not using the system very well. Simply put, the combat has a high degree of randomness. I found that frequently enemies that seemed quite tough would be defeated in the opening moves of a fight by exploding dice. But if you pump enemies up enough that they can survive the occasional super successful player action, then they are then way too hard the rest of the time.

    Also, combat is based on beating toughness/parry only a small proportion of the time, but once you do enemies only being able to take a couple of hits. Unlike a hitpoint system where progress is more consistent. So I found that if you made enemies even a bit tougher it was easy to fall into a situation where randomness would lead to a fight that took forever, because the players couldn't land any blows.

    I ended up fairly rapidly cheating in this way, just to try and even out some of the randomness and keep combat interesting. It was shortly after this that I stopped using Savage Worlds.
  • edited February 2014
    For this thread:

    Illusionism: GM invalidating player choices without them knowing that she's doing it.
    Participationism: GM invalidating player choices with their consent, whether or not they are aware of any instance of it.

    If that's the definition we're using then this system would have to qualify as the second. The advice is in the rulebook for god's sake. Any player who is unaware of it is only unaware because they don't care enough to find out.

    (Invalidating player choices is also really loaded language for something like 5.)
  • @MartinEden : interesting! As I often say, game designers are good at understanding expected value, but bad at understanding variance.
  • Is it ironic? I'm looking for a better word...

    SPF is good at selling his settings, and his game experiences (He totally is! I've seen him work a table!)
    But despite the rules of the system, as he's letting you know here.
    So people buy his books and mine them for good ideas and inspirations...
    But the advice on implementing them doesn't look good.
  • For this thread:

    Illusionism: GM invalidating player choices without them knowing that she's doing it.
    Participationism: GM invalidating player choices with their consent, whether or not they are aware of any instance of it.

    If that's the definition we're using then this system would have to qualify as the second. The advice is in the rulebook for god's sake. Any player who is unaware of it is only unaware because they don't care enough to find out.

    (Invalidating player choices is also really loaded language for something like 5.)

    I totally don't understand what "something like 5" means. Explain?


    My personal definition of consent doesn't include "you didn't read the rulebook to know that I was told to cheat, so that's your fault." I think the social contract lives at a higher level than the rules text, and there's a social contract that players and GM won't cheat. That is, cheating breaks the social contract.

    The designer's advice doesn't say "the game doesn't balance encounters well at epic power levels, so for God's sake, talk to your players about this and agree that some fudging will be necessary." It says, "Cheat." It says, "At the very least, you need to carefully conceal your cheats." It says, "Feel free" to inform the players you'll cheat, but "honestly, they should expect it" (a sentiment mirrored by a few people in the thread).

    This is advice buried in the GM's section that a player is neither expected to read, and might be expected not to read (to avoid reading GM-only setting spoilers).


    I realize "invalidating player choices" is loaded language. I don't know how else to word it. The players make a choice. The GM uses Force (GNS/Forge term) to choose an outcome other than the one that naturally makes sense. If the GM is going to finesse or fudge outcomes so that they turn out a certain way regardless of what the players do, then obviously, that invalidates / moots / diminishes player choices. Right?
  • But a player who doesn't read the GM section can't then complain that the GM is applying some principle that they didn't know about. They didn't want to know how the GM was supposed to act in this game!
  • ... or didn't have access to the book, or is trying a new game and doesn't have the time to invest in a thorough reading of the entire book, including the secret section, or is told "don't worry about it" by the GM, or carried assumptions based on other games they played, or trusts the GM enough to come forward with that information, or is just trying something new at a convention, or ...
  • ... or didn't have access to the book, or is trying a new game and doesn't have the time to invest in a thorough reading of the entire book, including the secret section, or is told "don't worry about it" by the GM, or carried assumptions based on other games they played, or trusts the GM enough to come forward with that information, or is just trying something new at a convention, or ...
    That sounds about right to me. In my experience, at most game tables the majority of the people playing have not read the rulebook, or at least certainly not cover-to-cover. Generally speaking, even an established, long-term group will usually just have one copy of the rules on hand. While it's certainly possible that they could take turns lending that one book to each player for a week or two so that s/he could read it... that's pretty rare, and would take a while.
  • Okay, yes, there are many reasons people don't care (enough?) about what their GM is doing/thinking. Saying "well, most people don't even bother to own a copy of the rules" supports what I'm saying!
  • ( Oh god, I know the next thing I'm going to type is problematic in so many ways, and that I shouldn't do it, but, here goes anyway...)

    I look at illusionist advice and see a clash between a Gamist and Simulationist Agenda in both rules design and play procedure.

    Like lots of RPGs, they start with modified versions of mechanics supportive of a gamist agenda. They might even want moments of gamism. But overall, the long term goal is something more like a form of genre emulationist simulation that they're looking for and illusionist techniques behind the GM screen are aclear way to get that.
  • edited February 2014

    I totally don't understand what "something like 5" means. Explain?
    You posted a list of six techniques. The fifth item on the list was "Surprise Allies and Reinforcements."

    If the GM is going to finesse or fudge outcomes so that they turn out a certain way regardless of what the players do, then obviously, that invalidates / moots / diminishes player choices. Right?
    Sure. If that's what was going on. That is of course not what the book you're quoting says to do. The finessing and fudging suggested is, for the most part not outcome, but process.

    Part of the problem you have is that the definitions are essentially meaningless. You're not describing technique or creative agenda. If the ONLY difference in your definition is the knowledge of the players then in this case you have to assume that the GAME is participationist because the information is readily available in the core book. A given table could meet your standard of illusionism, but we have no way of knowing that until the table exists. You presume that the players are lazy and ignorant and that the GM is a Machiavellian demon intent on ruining your fun, but the book is straightforward and to the point.
  • Hey Adam,

    The product has enough cool stuff that you bought it and remain a fan despite its omissions.

    What it doesn't have (apparently) is a way to provide challenge without cheating.

    The authors believe that players won't want to witness game-hacking during play. That may be untrue for some, but it wouldn't surprise me if they know their audience and it is in fact correct for the vast majority.

    Given those constraints, what do you wish Shaintar had done?

    I think Sean understands that players sometimes get upset when the GM "cheats" in the way he's outlined, or at least, it reduces the enjoyment they get from playing. That seems like a design problem.

    I'm only guessing, but I think Sean understands that it's important to hide this from the players not only to make the game fun, but also to keep players from feeling, well, cheated. That's an ethical problem. Sean's use of the word "cheat" (once in square-quotes, certainly) supports this, I think.

    Here's an example from his "Bennies" suggestions:

    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve realized “Dang it, I should have given him Improved Frenzy!” Well, guess what? Do it. Right there, on the spot.
    This comes down to creative agenda, right? If you're playing to support a challenge-based game, this advice is broken. The players have an expectation of a fair fight. The GM does her prep up front, and the players meet that head-on, and let the chips fall where they may. Sean suggests that the game works in such a way as to favor the players too one-sidedly in a way that isn't fun to play. So cheat. Okay, maybe that's the right design fix.

    However, I'm not sure "Feel free to tell them" is the right ethical advice. By God, talk to your friends about how you're gonna have to "cheat" to make the game fun. If they already know you do that, it will be a very quick discussion. If they don't know and don't mind, it will be a quick discussion. If they don't want you to play that way, you shouldn't play that way. A quick discussion settles this with consent among all participants.

    Offer some GM advice for making better, balanced encounters.

    Perhaps create some player bennies that let THEM "cheat," openly, to manage encounters that might be too difficult for them, then tell the GM to build really tough encounters. After all, this is legendary play, so they can expect to be up against some really tough problems. Let them choose when to spend their "Deus Ex Machina" resources to beat a nearly impossible challenge. I'll bet that's more fun, anyway.
  • edited February 2014
    Okay, yes, there are many reasons people don't care (enough?) about what their GM is doing/thinking. Saying "well, most people don't even bother to own a copy of the rules" supports what I'm saying!
    Harlequin listed a number of reasons why someone would not have read the book which have nothing to do with player apathy. (One-shot games, con games, trying out a new game, told not to by the GM, trusts the GM/group to inform him about various features of play, etc.)

    But the fundamental point is this:

    Let's say that the GM is told (whether by the rulebook or his friends/mentors) that she should do as follows:
    From Shaintar: Legends Unleashed, page 79:
    At the very
    least, you need to carefully conceal your cheats [...]
    What should the GM if a player reads the book and asks, "Hey, are you doing this cheating thing it mentions on p.79?"

    The GM now has a non-resolvable dilemma: she is supposed to cheat and hide it from the players, so as to improve the game. If that's the goal and that's the method, should she also lie now, to this question, in order to improve the game? After all, an admission could spoil the experience for the players... so maybe it's better to shrug it off and say, "Don't worry about that!"

  • Sure. If that's what was going on. That is of course not what the book you're quoting says to do. The finessing and fudging suggested is, for the most part not outcome, but process.
    The book totally says to determine outcomes. It says:
    In order to enjoy and
    savor their victories, battles need to be hard won and
    successes need to come at great effort and, sometimes,
    cost.
    If the GM preps a battle and it's going too easily for the PCs, and so the GM follows the advice to make it "hard won" and "at great effort" and great cost, that's fudging the outcome. That's not just process. That's process aimed at a specific outcome.

    Part of the problem you have is that the definitions are essentially meaningless. You're not describing technique or creative agenda. If the ONLY difference in your definition is the knowledge of the players then in this case you have to assume that the GAME is participationist because the information is readily available in the core book. A given table could meet your standard of illusionism, but we have no way of knowing that until the table exists. You presume that the players are lazy and ignorant and that the GM is a Machiavellian demon intent on ruining your fun, but the book is straightforward and to the point.
    Is this set of definitions better?

    Illusionism: GM determining outcomes by fiat, regardless of player choices in play, without consent of players to do so.
    Participationism: GM determining outcomes by fiat, regardless of player choices in play, with consent of players to do so.

    You presume that the players are lazy and ignorant and that the GM is a Machiavellian demon intent on ruining your fun, but the book is straightforward and to the point.
    Please tone down the rhetoric and adversarial tone. It's not going to improve this discussion.

    I'm not presuming those things. I'm talking about my own experiences. Most times in my player group, I bring a new game to the table, and I'm the only one who has read it cover to cover. Sometimes the players don't even have access to a copy of it (that is, they could buy one, but they haven't).

    The last time someone taught you a board game, did you read the rules, or did you let someone explain the rules to you and play along? That's my usual experience with RPGs. It's usually me (in a GM role), and I'm the one who 1) buys the game, 2) selects the game, 3) pitches the game to the group for a "play/don't play" vote, 4) reads the game rules, 5) introduces the game rules, and 6) runs the game. Any one of them could borrow the game, and they might pick it up and leaf through it, but they rarely read it cover to cover. There's no need; it would not significantly improve their enjoyment.

    For a setting book, this is doubly so. If we were to play a Shaintar Legends Unleashed campaign, they'd probably learn Savage Worlds and some of them would flip through the Player's Guides. They'd work with me to make characters. I'd be responsible for introducing the rules, understanding them, and running the game. That's how division of labor plays out with my friends.

    I definitely don't expect that my players read the GM section of a setting book. I definitely don't assume they're lazy for not doing so.


    I also don't assume that the GM is an evil demon. I do have ethical problems with Illusionist play. To me, it's a bit sketchy. It's also asking too much of the GM to figure out how and when to "cheat" to make sure the game is fun for everyone, especially when different players might want different things out of play. When I play a challenge-based D&D game, GM fudging spoils the fun for me, regardless of which direction she fudges in. From my Internet discussions, I know I am not the only player who feels this way, so I feel that a "GM advice" section that advocates this behavior to be dodgy advice at best.

    The GM should not be solely responsible for fun. If the GM is tasked with knowing when to retroactively change the state of the fiction to produce a fun outcome, that's putting a lot on the GM. It also forces the GM to make decisions like, "if I make this battle more challenging and more fun, and that ends up killing a character, do I wave my GM-Fiat-wand to undo the death somehow, especially if the player didn't do anything dumb, and how much do I need to hide the fact that I'm undoing the death, and that I was the cause of the death in the first place?" That's a crappy place to put a GM.

    So, no, I'm not demonizing the GM. I have great sympathy for the GM and feel we should protect her more.

  • The GM now has a non-resolvable dilemma: she is supposed to cheat and hide it from the players, so as to improve the game. If that's the goal and that's the method, should she also lie now, to this question, in order to improve the game? After all, an admission could spoil the experience for the players... so maybe it's better to shrug it off and say, "Don't worry about that!"
    I don't think the Shaintar book says to do that at all, so it's a red herring. It says, "feel free" to tell them you're doing it. First paragraph.
  • Adam, gotcha. It's the difference between "feel free to tell them" and "definitely tell them, and don't do it if they're not cool with it".

    As for your suggested fixes to the system, I assume Sean (whoever that is) would have done them if he was capable of them. Assuming he's not capable of them, I see his options as either "propose hacking" or "don't publish a thing that people want despite its flaws". So, I'm not surprised how it turned out.

    An aside: mid-encounter challenge-recalibration is an interesting thing that I don't think is inherently "not Gamist" at all. It depends on the motives, tools and skill of the people doing the re-calibrating.
  • I blinked twice at your aside after reading it, as it sunk in what you were saying. I agree with you.

    It's like there are two (or more) modes of challenge-based play. For example, in chess:

    1) Set it up and we'll play. Best player wins. You lost your Queen? Be more careful next time.
    2) Set it up and we'll play. Oh, that wasn't an interesting outcome. Don't put your Queen in front of my bishop. Let's reset. Take back your Queen and let's keep playing.
  • What does any illusionism technique accomplish?

    I mean, at its very core?

    From what I can tell, it helps give everyone the game they wanted, when they don't really want either hardcore gamism, nor do they want to use a whole lot of out-of-character mechanics/techniques.

    I mean, outside of this specific game, we've seen other discussions of this stuff.

    If players don't want to deal with out-of-character techniques ( immersionist priorities), then this stuff inevitably defaults to being hidden ( to avoid breaking immmersion) and on the GM end of things(same reason).

    I want a mystery to solve but I don't want to be completely stymied by missed clues.
    Answer: Move the clue or create a new clue that does something similar and place it in the PCs' path.

    I want fights that are challenging but I still have a chance to win through my character's abilities.
    Answer: Secretly bump up the challenge level either at the individual encounter level or at the scenario level.

    I want characters endangered ( oooh ! excitement! tension!), but I don't want them to die often nor randomly.
    Answer: Fudge as necessary to insure this and only go with real risk of character death at some key showdown encounter.

    I want memorable, recurring villains, just like in the media that inspires me to play these games
    Answer: The GM fudges to keep baddies alive until some key showdown moment, or at least stretches out an encounter in some fashion

    I want excitement and adventure, but I want to be able to have my character go whereever they want
    Answer: Put stuff in the path of the characters, no matter which direction they go, even if it means moving an encounter

    So there's a real problem ther if people don't want some straight forward gamist challenge, but they also don't want to see how the sausage is made ( lots of out-of-character mechanics/techniques).

    From what I can tell of most RPGers, at best they want some soft-gamism. Anything more than soft gamism and you start to see turtling and adventure avoidance.

    Illusionist techniques are just a way to deal with that.
  • edited February 2014
    Adam, yeah! The tricky part is just figuring out how much of what sort of transparency is necessary in version 2.

    Moving your queen in front of my bishop is a strategic error, and demands feedback. A poor set-up or bizarre roll outcome are not strategic errors, and it might be fine to handle them behind the curtain (depending on social contract etc.).

  • The book totally says to determine outcomes. It says:
    In order to enjoy and
    savor their victories, battles need to be hard won and
    successes need to come at great effort and, sometimes,
    cost.
    If the GM preps a battle and it's going too easily for the PCs, and so the GM follows the advice to make it "hard won" and "at great effort" and great cost, that's fudging the outcome. That's not just process. That's process aimed at a specific outcome.
    The outcome is the same in that case. The Players win. The process (how long the win takes) is different. That could be abused, but you're assuming abuse not in evidence.

    Is this set of definitions better?

    Illusionism: GM determining outcomes by fiat, regardless of player choices in play, without consent of players to do so.
    Participationism: GM determining outcomes by fiat, regardless of player choices in play, with consent of players to do so.
    What distinguishes fiat? What qualifies as an outcome? What qualifies as consent in this context? If an OSR GM misjudges the party and designs a dungeon that results in an instant kill, how is that not determining the outcome by fiat? If a trad GM adds a second patrol to beef up a fight and the players still win handily is that changing the outcome? If the GM says "this game isn't REALLY about fighting, so you probably won't die in combat unless you invite it" is that sufficient consent to fudge a damage roll?

    Is there a presumption of innocence? Or do we presume, as you have here, that the GM is guilty until proven innocent.

    Please tone down the rhetoric and adversarial tone. It's not going to improve this discussion.
    Sure. Will you do the same?

    I also don't assume that the GM is an evil demon. I do have ethical problems with Illusionist play.
    Which this is if and only if the GM has failed to inform the players of the techniques she has chosen to use, and the players have failed to familiarize themselves with the game they are going to play. Otherwise it's participationist. You're definition of illusionism (since it depends on table conditions we can not know) is dependent on the presumption that the GM will behave badly.

    Why do you assume that this advice is illusionist rather than participationist?

    The GM should not be solely responsible for fun. If the GM is tasked with knowing when to retroactively change the state of the fiction to produce a fun outcome, that's putting a lot on the GM. It also forces the GM to make decisions like, "if I make this battle more challenging and more fun, and that ends up killing a character, do I wave my GM-Fiat-wand to undo the death somehow, especially if the player didn't do anything dumb, and how much do I need to hide the fact that I'm undoing the death, and that I was the cause of the death in the first place?" That's a crappy place to put a GM.

    So, no, I'm not demonizing the GM. I have great sympathy for the GM and feel we should protect her more.
    But that protection can't extend to sharing the responsibility for awareness and maintenance of the game apparently.

  • I don't think the Shaintar book says to do that at all, so it's a red herring. It says, "feel free" to tell them you're doing it. First paragraph.
    That's very true, but I'm not sure how to reconcile "feel free to tell them" with "at the very least you need to conceal your cheats". Trying to do both of those at once creates really weird situations for the GM, as you point out with your own excellent example:
    It also forces the GM to make decisions like, "if I make this battle more challenging and more fun, and that ends up killing a character, do I wave my GM-Fiat-wand to undo the death somehow, especially if the player didn't do anything dumb, and how much do I need to hide the fact that I'm undoing the death, and that I was the cause of the death in the first place?" That's a crappy place to put a GM.


  • What does any illusionism technique accomplish?

    I mean, at its very core?

    From what I can tell, it helps give everyone the game they wanted, when they don't really want either hardcore gamism, nor do they want to use a whole lot of out-of-character mechanics/techniques.

    Sure, that's the mission, right? In general, people use illusionist techniques to make the best game they can.

    When do those techniques blow up in your face? When players who do not like being on that end of that kind of GM Fiat--players like me--find out that the GM is using them and have been using them without talking to me about it first. I thought I was playing in a game where my choices guided the story. It turns out that a lot of my choices don't really matter because the GM is going to tell her story and I'm just going along for the ride, injecting a bit of color here and there. That's not the game I want to play.

    This is all easily solved by Participationism, by that quick discussion between GM and players that the GM is going to use these techniques. If it's me, I might go, "Okay, fine, in these circumstances," or I might say I'd rather not play that way.

    I am frankly boggled by the seeming resistance of people to convert Illusionism into Participationism. I see no reason not to have that discussion. I see no value in avoiding the consent issue. Spend the five minutes to make sure that everyone is on-board with a bit of illusionist (Participationist) hocus-pocus before reaching for the magic wand. That's all.

  • This is all easily solved by Participationism, by that quick discussion between GM and players that the GM is going to use these techniques. If it's me, I might go, "Okay, fine, in these circumstances," or I might say I'd rather not play that way.

    I am frankly boggled by the seeming resistance of people to convert Illusionism into Participationism. I see no reason not to have that discussion. I see no value in avoiding the consent issue. Spend the five minutes to make sure that everyone is on-board with a bit of illusionist (Participationist) hocus-pocus before reaching for the magic wand. That's all.

    If you have the discussion, you're showing how the sausage is made.

    You might want that. I suspect many players don't.

    And the reason I suspect that is because of just how many discussions I've seen where players have all kinds of bad reactions to any sort of transparent out-of-character mechanics, especially if they have to handle them ( ewwww...).

    I'll also hazard that lots of players are already aware that most games are participationist, even if they've never heard that term.

    [tangent: I'm using an old computer right now and my W key is jammed. If any words seem weird, see if mentally putting in a W makes them make more sense]

  • The outcome is the same in that case. The Players win. The process (how long the win takes) is different. That could be abused, but you're assuming abuse not in evidence.
    No one has evidence of Illusionism except the GM, or else it's Participationism, right? It's always been when I've suddenly seen behind the curtain (in the Oz sense) that suddenly my game is spoiled. Oh, it wasn't my awesome play that killed that megavillain. The GM just architected the outcome that way. It's retroactively sucky for me.

    Really, this is not all some theoretical, philosophical discussion about ethics for me. It's about actual outcomes of actual play that I've been involved with, on both sides of the GM Screen.

    What distinguishes fiat? What qualifies as an outcome? What qualifies as consent in this context? If an OSR GM misjudges the party and designs a dungeon that results in an instant kill, how is that not determining the outcome by fiat? If a trad GM adds a second patrol to beef up a fight and the players still win handily is that changing the outcome? If the GM says "this game isn't REALLY about fighting, so you probably won't die in combat unless you invite it" is that sufficient consent to fudge a damage roll?

    Is there a presumption of innocence? Or do we presume, as you have here, that the GM is guilty until proven innocent.
    I have definitions for all those words (fiat, outcome, consent). I think you do, too. I'm not ready to go down this semantic rabbit hole with you just yet.

    Let's try it this way: What are your definitions of illusionism and participationism?

    Please tone down the rhetoric and adversarial tone. It's not going to improve this discussion.
    Sure. Will you do the same?
    I'm definitely trying to keep this discussion civil. I am pretty sure I have not attributed motive to you. You did attribute motive to me.


    I also don't assume that the GM is an evil demon. I do have ethical problems with Illusionist play.
    Which this is if and only if the GM has failed to inform the players of the techniques she has chosen to use, and the players have failed to familiarize themselves with the game they are going to play. Otherwise it's participationist. You're definition of illusionism (since it depends on table conditions we can not know) is dependent on the presumption that the GM will behave badly.

    Why do you assume that this advice is illusionist rather than participationist?
    I am not assuming it's illusionist. Please re-read post #4, where I said that it's participationist if the players are aware.

    My definition of illusionism does not depend on the GM behaving "badly." It depends on the GM doing things that the players are unaware. I think, if the GM is aware that the players may not like it (terms like "cheat" and "conceal" and "pull any stunts" suggest the GM knows), then it's ethically dodgy. It's doing the wrong things for the right reasons, but I am aware that plenty of GMs use these techniques without any awareness that a player might not like it (that is, the GM isn't actually doing anything wrong or dodgy).

    I have not assumed that the players have "failed to familiarize themselves." In many cases, I believe that the players have familiarized themselves with the rules when the GM explained the rules to them. If a Shaintar GM explains the rules to the players but leaves out that Cheating section, whose fault is that?

    The GM should not be solely responsible for fun. If the GM is tasked with knowing when to retroactively change the state of the fiction to produce a fun outcome, that's putting a lot on the GM. It also forces the GM to make decisions like, "if I make this battle more challenging and more fun, and that ends up killing a character, do I wave my GM-Fiat-wand to undo the death somehow, especially if the player didn't do anything dumb, and how much do I need to hide the fact that I'm undoing the death, and that I was the cause of the death in the first place?" That's a crappy place to put a GM.

    So, no, I'm not demonizing the GM. I have great sympathy for the GM and feel we should protect her more.

    But that protection can't extend to sharing the responsibility for awareness and maintenance of the game apparently.
    Of course it does. I don't know where you get that I'm saying it doesn't.
  • I am frankly boggled by the seeming resistance of people to convert Illusionism into Participationism.
    If you mean play groups, then I think it's because GMs are worried that players will take away their toys without thinking hard enough about why those toys are necessary. Often enough, that worry is well-founded*.

    If you mean published games, then I think that's because they're often written by those GMs I just mentioned.

    * I am happy to elaborate, but don't want to thread-jack.
  • @komradebob

    You're probably right about "how the sausage is made." A lot of players act in the mode of "It's the GM's game, the GM's rules. Let's not talk about HOW to play. Let's just play." Rule Zero and stuff.

    That's basically Participationism-by-Default, right?
  • edited February 2014
    Oh hey, good call; the consent discussion could be as non-specific as:

    "Do you guys want to know how I'm going to be GMing? Or would you rather I keep it all secret?"

    "Secret!"

    In that discussion, don't even raise the issue of "cheating" unless the players show some interest in knowing what's up.
  • @komradebob

    You're probably right about "how the sausage is made." A lot of players act in the mode of "It's the GM's game, the GM's rules. Let's not talk about HOW to play. Let's just play." Rule Zero and stuff.

    That's basically Participationism-by-Default, right?
    Kinda. I think somehere in there is a real clash between gamism and simulationism ( specifically genre emulation stuff).

    I don't think it comes up in narrativism because people are already playing to find out what happens, and no matter which way things go, as long as they go somewhere, it's okay, and you can expect players to drive things along if that's the priority without nudging much.

    What I really, really think is that for lots of people, RPGs are mostly Play Pretend ( source material emulation. Often genre, though I guess it doesn't absolutley need to be...) with lightweight gamism moments to spice things up.

    I mean, really, I think that's the drive for most players.

    So, I dunno. Yes, participationism by default, I guess?

  • Yeah, I ran a lot of games like that in my time. I used every technique on the list above. We also had a handful of pretty serious arguments at the table, and I can attribute a lot of them to the consequences of GM hocus-pocus, and the players finding out.

    The players were usually happy for me to fudge openly when it aided them: a reroll or a second chance for them. If they realized that I was adding more goblins to make a too-weak encounter more challenging for them, they'd be annoyed. It was /cheating/ to them. As SPF says, "Blatant, naked cheating, however, is going to be held with a dim view," but what does that really mean? It means, "GM, you have to cheat or the game will suck, and if the players find out, that might suck even more."

  • edited February 2014
    I got in a massive argument with a very good buddy once over illusionist techniques used in a Call of Cthulhu game.

    Mind you, it was one guy out of the group. He was a very gamist minded dude. After the adventure as over, he went and found the scenario and read it, came back from break ( we were college roomies) and bitched me out something fierce.

    As far as I can tell, none of the other players minded at the time we played, nor afterwards.

    Notably, they asked me to uninvite this guy from playing, even though we'd hang out socially ( and he's still a good friend).

    I suspect that as a case of Participationism ( and some of the other stuff I mentioned) by Default, clashing with a gamist agenda.

    Personally, I think a whole lot of standard game design and advice is pretty messy, and puts a whole lot on the GM to carry things, and does it with over-engineered mechanics, especially if what most people are looking for is Play Pretend with Lite Gamism. (Which is what they seem to be looking for, although that gets into some Chicken-and-Egg questions...)
  • Hey folks!

    It's our old friends (or enemies), Participationism and Illusionism. People can get keyed up about those topics: let's try not to, and let's definitely not try to analyze who people think is injecting heat into the discussion.

    I'm putting Slow Down rules on this thread: one post a day per person from here on out. If you need a full refresher, go http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=4&page=1

    I'm going to make another recommendation: try to keep your posts to one coherent point or train of thought. Often times, a lot of interesting ideas come up in a thread: the blockquote style of responding point by point to each other can be hard to follow, and at its worst, it can lead to antagonism. So try to stick to one line of argument, and if there's a tangent which seems interesting, start a new thread.

    As always, talk to me if you've got any questions.
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